Carolyn Bennett, the federal Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations, will be in Winnipeg on Saturday to announce what her department describes as a plan for reconciliation with the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) and its people.
The Minister will provide $154.3-million in funding to the MMF, most of which will be put toward social programs that the federation says are necessary to close an economic gap between the Métis and the rest of Canada.
But $40-million of that will be used to help the MMF transition from a special-interest advocacy group into a self-governing Indigenous Nation, the details of which still have to be negotiated with Ottawa.
David Chartrand, who has been MMF president for more than 20 years, said the agreement is the beginning of the realization of the dream of Riel, the Métis leader who was hanged for treason in 1885 and who formed a provisional government in 1869 that joined confederation as Manitoba under the Manitoba Act of 1870.
“It is changing our place in history back to what it was. For us, it is bringing us back into Confederation, Mr. Chartrand said on Friday in Ottawa where he filmed a video with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to mark the historic occasion.
Now that we have the government back at the table, we can start to negotiate the self-government that was promised, Mr. Chartrand said.
The Supreme Court of Canada found in 2013 that the Crown failed to implement the land provisions of the Manitoba Act, which called for 1.4 million acres of land, including Winnipeg, to be given to Métis children.
The top court also ruled in 2016 that the Métis are non-status Indians under the Constitution and the government had to recognize and negotiate with them as such. The MMF says the Métis are people of mixed Indigenous and European race and who can trace their roots to one of the historic Métis communities in Western Canada and estimates that about 120,000 people can claim that ancestry.
As for the more than $100-million of new money that will be directed to social programs, Mr. Chartrand said that is a down payment on the amount that Canada owes his people for land they were denied.
Some of it will create grants for young Métis people that can be put toward a first house. Some will build 100 new, single-family homes for seniors, each with a greenhouse attached. Some will offset the cost of university tuition for Métis students. Some will help older people pay for medication. A portion may be used to purchase land to protect it for hunting. And some will fund small capital investments so Métis people can start their own businesses.
We make a lot of our own economic engine right now, Mr. Chartrand said, “but this will be putting fuel to the fire for us. “
The funding comes on the heels of a commitment by the federal government this week to spend $1.7-billion over 10 years on early learning and child care for Indigenous people, a promise that specifically mentioned the Métis. That followed an agreement in July that said Ottawa would spend $500-million over 10 years to support a Métis housing strategy.
Theyve always wanted a hand up not a handout,” Ms. Bennett said of the Métis in a telephone interview on Friday. “They are amazing in terms of their ambition and their ability in terms of creativity and innovation.
And, as for a future self-government, she said that if Ottawa is allowing the dream of Riel to become a reality, then she is glad to be part of that.
When a self-government is created, Mr. Chartrand said, it could take over the provision of such things as social services and education for the Métis people, and it would allow the Métis to write and enforce many of their own laws..
But, most importantly, he said, it will mean that no future federal or provincial governments can take away Métis rights with the stroke of a pen. Industry and governments, Mr. Chartrand said, will have to sit down with us in an equal forum.
A plan that includes $154 million in federal government funding for the Manitoba Metis Federation is just the beginning of a transformational process advancing reconciliation between Canada and the Métis people, MMF president David Chartrand says.
"It's changed the very essence of the Métis. We've always been looking through the window, never invited into the room, provincially or federally. But now we're right inside the room and having a chance to make a difference for our people," he said.
Chartrand and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett officially announced the plan Saturday, which builds on the Framework Agreement for Advancing Reconciliation signed in November 2016, as well as the 2013 Supreme Court decision recognizing Métis land claims, potentially worth billions of dollars.
The court found the federal government failed to follow through on a land deal negotiated with Louis Riel and the Métis people to end the Red River resistance in 1870, which led to the creation of the province of Manitoba.
"And so this process now we're moving towards is to try to get the head start that was promised in 1870 to us and was robbed from us," Chartrand said.
At the official announcement in Winnipeg on Saturday, Bennett said the announcement advances the process of reconciliation between Canada and the Métis people.
"While much more work needs to be done, these are seriously important developments that advance reconciliation, but also demonstrate concrete progress in the ongoing negotiation process between the Manitoba Metis Federation and Canada," she said.
"It is an example of the kind of progress we want to be making coast to coast to coast with all Indigenous Peoples."
Some of the money will be invested to improve the social and economic well-being of Métis people in Manitoba, like housing, health, and child care and early learning.
The plan also begins a process of working toward a self-government agreement, which would recognize the MMF as a Métis government. Chartrand says currently, the MMF is forced to structure itself as a corporation due to federal and provincial laws, which means that other governments do not recognize its authority.
"This will probably start a new discussion of a new formula that could be established where Métis governments will start to run a lot of the issues and programs that we should be servicing, like provinces and territories," he said.
The MMF has already begun practicing a form of self-government, Chartrand said. He pointed to separate hunting laws that were established by the Métis people and recognized by the Manitoba government.
To help him decide how to use the money from the new agreement, Chartrand said he will consult with his strategic investment committee, which includes former prime minister Paul Martin, Hartley Richardson (CEO of James Richardson & Sons), Sanford Riley (CEO of Richardson Financial Group and former Manitoba Hydro board chair), Harvey Secter (an arbitrator and chancellor of the University of Manitoba), and former Syncrude CEO Eric Newell.
Cameron MacLean is a journalist living in Winnipeg, Man. where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience covering news in the city and across the province, working in print, radio, television and online.
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